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Corruption, violence, Leonardo DiCaprio, gorilla poaching, rebel forces, oil and the magnificent backdrop of the Virunga National Park sounds like the latest Ridley Scott thriller. Sadly, it is the true story of the struggle for survival of the Park, its animals,  and its protectors as portrayed in the Oscar nominated feature documentary,  VIRUNGA.

LMGA member Barbara Miller  asks her good friend and former location scout, LuAnne Cadd on her experience at Virunga National Park.

Barbara: As location scouts and managers, we are always putting out fires and adapting to unforeseen changes.  I know you’ve dealt with real world emergencies in Bosnia, your first humanitarian job following location scouting, and more recently at Virunga National Park.

LuAnne:  Location Managers certainly know what it is like to solve problems under pressure. The job at Virunga National Park landed unexpectedly in my lap. My job was to manage the park’s website, blog, and fundraising. I always dreamed of working in Africa, surrounded by wildlife. However it was nothing like I imagined. I lived in a tent for two years with monkeys and baboons often using my little “home” as a trampoline in the early morning hours. The imagined life ended there.

We had gorillas and guerrillas. In my first month, rebels shot an RPG at a ranger vehicle, killing eight, and the attacks on rangers continued. Four months into my second year a rebel war surrounded the park and our headquarters. Often we ate our breakfast and worked as usual with the sound of mortars in the distance. I was evacuated eight times in nine months.

Even so, the time at the park will go down as one of my life’s most enriching experiences.

Barbara: When you worked at Virunga, how did you become involved in assisting the documentary director, Orlando von Einsiedel, in the making of the movie?

LuAnne: Part of my job was managing media requests. Orlando approached me to make a short video for a program on Al Jazeera. I felt it would be great publicity. While he was at the park, he became interested in making a feature documentary. The warden, Emmanuel de Merode, was interested in finding someone who could help catch Soco in illegal acts. The two felt they could work together. The rebel war began quite suddenly during Orlando’s second shoot at the park and the whole film took an unexpected turn.

My job included organizing his transport, joining ranger patrols, visas, and hotels; keeping track of undercover equipment; fielding calls from concerned friends and the British Embassy as rebels held him and rangers at gunpoint following a gorilla patrol. The crazy stories would take weeks to tell.

Orlando’s “normal” documentary filming was public. The Soco oil related filming was not. To protect those who were trying to collect undercover evidence of illegal activities, the circle of those involved was extremely small. For about two years I could not tell anyone.

Barbara: The meetings with those aiding Soco seemed like a spy thriller, showing the gray and murky areas of human nature. M23 rebel activity intensifies in the park and you move on. How did you transition to your current work with MAF? You mentioned that you still use many of your skills from scouting. How is it similar?

LuAnne:  It’s about finding the right place, people, and stories. Giving people a sense of place in stories is crucial. I’m always looking for those moments that can tell a story in one picture. And everyone has a story worth sharing. I began doing freelance photography for MAF off and on when I first went to DR Congo to visit my brother who is a bush pilot for MAF. They loved my work, sending me to Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Timor-Leste, Australia, and Mongolia over the next few years. When my job ended at Virunga, they asked me to come on staff as photographer, writer and videographer.

The skills of location scouting and managing have many parallels to other types of work. I was actually hired for the Bosnia job, dealing with internally displaced people from the war, because of my experience as a Location Manager. It exhibited exactly the skills I would need: initiating contacts, working closely with government officials, organizing operations and coordinating the movement of people, etc.

Communications and journalism also have multiple parallels. I’m looking for stories to tell, often digging to find something no one else has found, or happen upon a remarkable story that leaves me deeply moved. I am mostly in charge of my own schedule, which involves research and problem solving in order to get a good story. My experience in location scouting and managing has been extremely valuable in the work I do today.

To learn more about LuAnne Cadd and her work, please visit  www.luannecadd.com.

Barbara Miller is a photographer and location scout based out of Los Angeles, CA.


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